On November 11, Principia Scientific International, a U.K.-based organization with a history of spreading COVID-19 related disinformation, published an article claiming ivermectin had massively reduced coronavirus infection rates in Indonesia.
The article, headlined: “Ivermectin Cuts Indonesia Covid By 98%, Aussie Cases UP 500% With Lock-N-Vax,” stated that ivermectin “was hot property in Indonesia, even if it was banned.” That ban, it said, led to a spike in cases, “wherein 90,000 people died in the following surge.”
The claim that COVID-19 cases surged in Indonesia after it banned ivermectin is false.
Ivermectin was not banned in Indonesia. Rather, the BPOM did not approve emergency and/or off-license use of the drug to treat COVID-19. BPOM, citing the World Health Organization and other health bodies, stated that “ivermectin for COVID-19 indications is only used within the framework of clinical trials,” which were approved on June 28.
Still, the drug was available for its intended use as an anti-parasitic.
The BPOM reportedly granted the state-run pharmaceutical company Indofarma permission to distribute ivermectin on June 22.
The Jakarta Globe quoted State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir as saying ivermectin “is for therapies, not a cure for Covid-19.”
Thohir said clinical trials for ivermectin were needed, adding it is a prescription-only medicine to be taken under a doctor’s supervision.
Principia Scientific International claimed that the Food and Drugs Authority of Indonesia (BPOM) approved ivermectin for emergency use to treat COVID-19.
That, it said, drastically cut Indonesia’s COVID-19 surge. By contrast, the article claimed that Australia’s “lockdown-and-vax plan and the roadmap to freedom doesn’t seem to be working too well.”
“In Australia billions of dollars were burnt at the stake, not to mention the health risks of using experimental prophylactics, while Indonesia reduced Covid cases by 98% for about point-one percent of the cost and the main side effects were the deaths of worms, lice and bed bugs,” the article stated.
However, the article, which has been posted repeatedly on social media, is riddled with unverified claims, if not outright falsehoods. At no point did it cite any peer review research proving that ivermectin, and not other containment measures, led to a drop in COVID-19 cases in Indonesia.
In July, Indonesia — the world’s fourth most populous nation — experienced a spike in COVID-19 cases and is often described as the new epicenter of the global pandemic.
That surge began to subside in September. Principia Scientific International has not provided evidence showing that ivermectin use caused the decline in cases.
Principia Scientific International also repeated the false claim that the BPOM approved ivermectin for emergency use to treat COVID-19 on July 15.
Jakarta-based Harsen Laboratories fell afoul of the BPOM for allegedly importing the drug illegally and telling the public it could be purchased without a doctor’s prescription or supervision. One of Harsen Laboratories owners also got in hot water for handing out free samples of ivermectin to “charitable groups” prior to receiving a license to manufacture and sell the drug, Asia Times reported.
The Diplomat reported that Harsen Laboratories is suspected of lobbying high-ranking government officials to secure ivermectin’s approval as a COVID-19 drug.
Some Indonesian Cabinet officials even falsely claimed that the BPOM authorized ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment in June. That, along with other public endorsements by prominent figures, likely led to increased off-label use.
France 24 reported on July 8 that a run on ivermectin in Indonesia drove up prices as many pharmacies ran out of the drug.
However, there is no peer reviewed data on who was actually taking ivermectin, and what, if any, effect it had on COVID-19.
Likewise, the perceived uptick in ivermectin use also corresponds to other public health measures to tackle the surge in COVID-19 cases.
Only 5% of Indonesia’s population was fully vaccinated as of July 1.
As cases skyrocketed, Indonesia ramped up its mass vaccination campaign. The country also instituted various measures to curb COVID-19’s spread.
World Bank officials noted in a September 17 blog post that Indonesia was “administering over 1.2 million [COVID-19 vaccine] doses a day, nearly a 10-fold increase since mid-May 2021.”
And while Indonesia, unlike Australia, did not institute a nationwide lockdown, it did implement a two-week lockdown covering 12 of the country’s 34 provinces and 55% of its population, Reuters reported.
Indonesia implemented other measures. Employees of non-essential businesses were asked to work from home, shopping malls were closed, capacity limits were placed on restaurants, places of worship and public transport, and foreigners were largely banned from entering or transiting the country.
Indonesians also became more willing to abide by the mask mandate.
According to Statistica, 76% of Indonesian respondents said they wore face masks when going out in public as of October 25, versus 54% on February 24, 2020.
Meantime, studies on ivermectin’s use as a treatment for COVID-19 have been inconclusive.
In October, British researchers reported they found that many studies touting ivermectin’s benefits as a COVID-19 treatment were largely of “poor quality,” if not outright “fraudulent.”
A number of studies touting ivermectin’s benefits have been retracted due to shoddy data and other concerns.
An Institute for Clinical Research Malaysia study released earlier this month found that ivermectin did not have a significant impact in treating COVID-19.
That study found adverse events (“most commonly diarrhea”) were three times more likely for those taking ivermectin than for those who received treatment without ivermectin.